A New Wave of Consumer Finance Companies
- by Amy Errett
Every 20 years or so, consumer demand and technological innovation combine in a way that dramatically impacts the consumer financial services industry.
For example, when eTrade, The Motley Fool and Intuit hit the scene a couple of decades ago, consumers took more personal control than ever before in managing their finances and investing their savings.
Once again, the consumer financial services industry is in the throes of a sea change. A host of economic and technological factors have created a ‘perfect storm’ that is changing the way people manage their money, as well as how they pay for goods, borrow money and finance car and home purchases. New tech-driven, web-based consumer financial services companies are emerging to address this shift in consumer behavior.
Here are some of the biggest changes enabling the emergence of new consumer financial service firms:
With advances in back-end banking and security systems, more financial data is accessible via the Web than ever before, giving consumers instant access to their banking, investing, credit card and loan information online, via iPhone or iPad apps and via mobile websites. Most consumers are now comfortable managing their finances online. According to ComScore, nearly 60 percent of the total U.S. Internet population regularly visits at least one of the top 20 financial institution sites. IDC found mobile banking usage doubled from 2009 to 2010.
Consumers have a pervasive “dislike” of large financial institutions, such as banks, credit card companies, and brokerages. They are angry at being charged endless fees by these institutions, while at the same time receiving little strategic financial advice in return. Social media is changing the way consumers interact, with people turning to each other for financial advice instead of to big institutions that they don’t trust.
More people are “cutting up the plastic” in times of financial austerity, so debit card use is soaring. A July 2009 survey by Auriemma Consulting Group found that 28 percent of consumers had shifted the way they pay for purchases in the past year, with an increase in debit card usage replacing credit cards.
The Great Recession has caused more consumers to watch their spending, and they want financial services providers to help them save and meet personal goals. Many economists believe this shift toward “penny pinching” is a lasting generational shift.
Large existing financial institutions are not focused on delivering innovative online services. With expensive brick-and-mortar branches to defend, traditional financial institutions don’t have the resources to develop innovative Web 3.0 functionality.
With all of these societal changes taking place, there are already a slew of new web-based consumer financial services firms gaining traction: Green Dot, Netspend, and Higher One are some examples. Maveron recently invested in paynearme.com, an alternative payment system that allows consumers to make online purchases and pay for them offline at a local 7-Eleven, through the mail or via their social networks.
When you see how many smart entrepreneurs are thinking of ways to empower the consumer in this time of financial uncertainty and well into the future, it’s clear more new financial services businesses will emerge.
The VC’s job will be to identify which of these businesses bring together the right set of online consumer services, financial expertise and great technology to deliver sustainable business results.